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The Incompleteness of Our Knowledge of the Fossil Record

J. Wyatt Durham
Journal of Paleontology
Vol. 41, No. 3 (May, 1967), pp. 559-565
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1302040
Page Count: 7
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
The Incompleteness of Our Knowledge of the Fossil Record
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Abstract

Consideration of the doctrine of evolution and the implications of the biological species concept indicate that our knowledge of the fossil record will not be complete until we have a continuum of morphologies between all taxa with preservable parts. As an important corollary to the biological species concept, it is emphasized that species boundaries between sequential taxa will have to be arbitrary. The recorded California Pleistocene marine invertebrate fauna is only about two-thirds as large as the living fossilizable fauna of the same region. Tertiary marine faunas of the reasonably well studied California area are even smaller. For contrast a probable 657 species of molluscs have been recorded from a 1 to 2 foot bed in the Miocene of Bowden, Jamaica, and over 3000 taxa have been recorded from the Eocene of the Paris Basin. On the basis of a sample of over 67,000 molluscs collected by screening a late Pleistocene marine pocket near Newport, California, 427 taxa were recognized. A 1 per cent sample obtained in the same manner would have yielded only 153 taxa, while a sample of 68 specimens (0.1% of original collection) would yield only 48 taxa. These data emphasize the deleterious effect of small collecting samples. The occurrence of the coral genera Dasmia and Dendrosmilia in the Pacific Coast Cenozoic, when previous records were restricted to Western Europe, underscores our poor knowledge of the geographic distribution of fossils. The occurrence of the Helicoplacoidea, Eocrinoidea, Edrioasteroidea, Camptostromoidea and an unnamed class of echinoderms in the Early Cambrian indicates that echinoderms equipped with hard parts existed in the Precambrian. Analysis of fossilizable marine invertebrates and the known fossil record suggests that we know only about one of every 44 (and probably fewer) taxa of those that have existed in this environment since the beginning of the Cambrian.

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